Navy Spring Review: Inside Linebackers

Navy recently completed its spring drills. GoMids.com’s Jim Lawler will now review every Midshipmen position and name a starter, a backup and a third string player to watch. In this segment he reviews the inside linebackers.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS
MIKE
Starters: Micah Thomas So.
Backups: Tyler Goble
Third String: Don Pearson Sr.

SAM
Starters: Daniel Gonzalez Jr.
Backups: Ryan Harris Jr.
Third String: Winn Howard So.

The only returning starting linebacker is junior SAM inside linebacker Daniel Gonzales. Daniel made 86 tackles with three interceptions in 2014 at Mike linebacker and was moved one stop over this spring. He started early in his career as a sophomore as GoMids.com predicted when he joined the program on I-day. He had been named NAPS defensive MVP in 2012. Gonzalez is a very instinctive and aware inside linebacker. He reads plays well, has great range, can drop in coverage and flies to the ball. Daniel offers nice size at 6-2', 229-pounds and fills running lanes quickly. Gonzalez had a nice sophomore campaign. He was the best inside linebacker I’ve seen in my six years of following the NAPS program. He hasn't disappointed and should only improve with experience.

Micah Thomas is a talented direct admit linebacker who won the open Mike inside starting job this spring. In 2014, as a plebe, he played in six of the last eight games. Thomas (6-1”, 249) is a big, physical inside linebacker with ability. The Mids were lucky to land him. Arkansas State hired a new football staff last year and they gave his scholarship away. That move left Thomas without an offer just before 2014 signing day. Micah is from Vista Ridge high school in Texas where he played linebacker and defensive end. He earned first-team honors on the Class 4A All-state team as a senior when he recorded 147 tackles in only 10 games. Thomas has the type of size rarely seen in a Navy inside linebacker.

The top backups at inside linebacker are senior Tyler Goble and junior Ryan Harris. I thought the soon-to-be senior Goble (6-2", 222) would win the vacant Mike starting inside linebacker after the staff moved Gonzalez. Tyler was beat out by the bigger and more physically gifted Micah Thomas. As a junior Goble appeared in eleven games and made 11 tackles at inside linebacker. Goble looks to be another in the line of the jinxed three-star rated Scout.com high school linebacker recruits who were beat out by other players. Goble is tough, instinctive linebacker who is a good player but a notch below those starting ahead of him.

Junior Ryan Harris (5-11, 213) has continued to work hard, improve and move up the depth chart. Harris is one of those self-made workout warrior players that make you want to root for them. He was probably the most improved player from beginning to end of the year in 2012 at the Naval Academy Prep school. He started the season in a reserve role behind a deep NAPS linebacker crew. Harris was eventually used as a striker linebacker at NAPS. He has added over twenty pounds since then and was moved inside to SAM linebacker. Harris (15 tackles) played in every game mostly on special teams last fall. Ryan showed his speed late in the Georgia State blowout.

Senior Mike linebacker Don Pearson (6-3', 223) has been a big disappointment. He dropped to third on the depth chart this spring. Pearson was expected to be a starting inside linebacker after spring practice last year. He lost the job in summer camp and ended up appearing in just one game last fall. Pearson played wide receiver at NAPS in 2011 and was listed as a wide receiver when he arrived at Annapolis but moved to linebacker. Don is a talented athlete and had offers from Stanford, San Diego State and UNLV when he was recruited in high school. It just hasn't worked out despite his athletic ability.

Sophomore SAM linebacker is sort of the opposite of Pearson. Winn Howard (6-2, 216) earned All-State honors in Colorado but he wasn't as hyped as some other recruits. Howard was a real pleasant surprise when I first saw him at NAPS in 2013. He is an excellent athlete who just makes a lot of plays. Will is very smart, surprisingly fast, reads well and takes good angles to the ball. He can bend his knees and plays with leverage. He does a nice job of filling and shooting gaps. As I mentioned during his I-day report, while he played outside linebacker at NAPS, it was likely that Navy staff would move him back to inside linebacker where he played in high school. He had a nice spring at SAM linebacker.

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